Jackson’s alternative universe is much like the one we inhabit now, with a few key exceptions. In it, American remorse over the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki has led to the creation of a postwar National Penitence Ground in eastern Nevada, a “Proving Ground of American Sadness” where a “despondent American government [has] commenced organized hostilities against itself” in the form of repeated bombings. Among the unforeseen victims of this nuclear self-flagellation are the unborn, who summarily begin appearing in greatly increased numbers as conjoined twins: two heads on a single body. Blanche and Nora Olney constitute such a “twofer,” as these twins are known, and grow up in the desert playing, bickering, going to school and trying — like all kids — not to feel like total freaks.
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